Posts Tagged ‘ballistic missiles’

Containing Putin—and Trump

July 18, 2018

Congress needs to block any new arms deal until Russia stops cheating.

In this video grab provided by RU-RTR Russian Television on March 1, Russia's new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile blasts off during a test launch from an undisclosed location in Russia.
In this video grab provided by RU-RTR Russian Television on March 1, Russia’s new Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile blasts off during a test launch from an undisclosed location in Russia. PHOTO: RU-RTR RUSSIAN TELEVISION/ASSOCIATED PRESS


President Trump rarely admits mistakes, so it was good on Tuesday to see him reverse his claim of Monday that Russia may not have interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. The problem is that he still doesn’t seem to understand the nature of the adversary known as Vladimir Putin whom he wants to make his friend.

“I have full faith in our intelligence agencies,” Mr. Trump said Tuesday at the White House. He added that he unintentionally erred Monday when he said, “I don’t see any reason why it would be Russia” that had done the cyber-hacking. He said he meant to say, “I don’t see any reason why it wouldn’t be Russia.”

We wonder who thought of that one, but never mind. At least Mr. Trump has at last publicly sided with his own advisers over the former KGB agent in the Kremlin. He also said “we are doing everything in our power to prevent Russian interference” in the 2018 election, which his intelligence advisers have also warned him about.

Less encouraging is Mr. Trump’s continued enthusiasm for working with Mr. Putin on issues like Syria and arms control. On nuclear weapons in particular, Mr. Trump is a neophyte compared with the Russian who wants to rewrite the historical record to lure the President into further reducing the U.S. arsenal.

Nuclear weapons are “the greatest threat of our world today,” Mr. Trump told reporters Tuesday. Russia is “a great nuclear power, we’re a great nuclear power. We have to do something about nuclear, and so that was a matter that we discussed actually in great detail, and President Putin agrees with me.”

Uh oh. In an interview with Fox News host Chris Wallace Monday, Mr. Putin lamented America’s “unilateral withdrawal” from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty (ABM) during the George W. Bush Administration. “We didn’t want the United States to withdraw from the ABM treaty, but they did despite our request not to do it,” Mr. Putin said.

What Mr. Putin didn’t explain is that the ABM Treaty, which limited deployments of missile defenses, was a bilateral pact that the U.S. adhered to and the Soviets repeatedly violated, notably by building a large, phased-array radar at Krasnoyarsk. When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, the ABM Treaty was effectively voided, yet Republican and Democratic Presidents kept the treaty in place.

George W. Bush finally withdrew from ABM in 2002, explaining that the Cold War had ended, Russia was no longer an enemy, and the treaty hindered the U.S. “ability to develop ways to protect our people from future terrorist or rogue state missile attacks.” The Bush Administration understood that the treaty left the U.S. defenseless against a missile from the likes of Iran and North Korea.

Mr. Bush’s withdrawal was legal under the treaty’s termination clause, and at the time Mr. Putin said the move was “mistaken” but “presented no threat to Russia’s security.” Yet on Monday Mr. Putin said Russia’s development of new offensive weaponry like the Sarmat intercontinental ballistic missile was “born as a response to the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from the ABM Treaty.”

In his news conference with Mr. Trump, Mr. Putin also excused Russian violations of the 1987 Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, which bars ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500 to 5,500 kilometers. Mr. Putin blamed “implementation issues.” He didn’t say that the Pentagon believes a new medium-range nuclear cruise missile that Russia has deployed in Europe violates the INF treaty. And Mr. Trump didn’t call him on it.

Mr. Putin wants to draw Mr. Trump into an arms-control negotiation that would revive the ABM limits while expanding Barack Obama’s New Start reductions in U.S. missiles. Mr. Trump is so confident of his personal deal-making skills, and so untutored in nuclear arms, that we hope the negotiations never begin.

This is where Congress needs a containment strategy—for Mr. Putin and for Mr. Trump’s desire to cut deals with him. Members of both parties can make clear that no new arms deal is possible until Mr. Putin stops cheating on current treaties; that no limit on missile defenses is tolerable; and that any new deal must be submitted to the Senate as a treaty requiring a two-thirds vote for ratification.

Appeared in the July 18, 2018, print edition.


Harsh words may mean North Korea seeking deal with Trump — Not really very “gangster-like”

July 9, 2018

US officials were surprised at fiery statement from Pyongyang following bilateral talks, but many see it as a negotiating tactic

US President Donald Trump (R) and North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un shake hands following a signing ceremony during their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)

US President Donald Trump (R) and North Korea’s leader Kim Jong Un shake hands following a signing ceremony during their historic US-North Korea summit, at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island in Singapore on June 12, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB)

TOKYO, Japan (AP) — North Korea’s vitriolic criticism of the United States following a first round of nuclear negotiations went out of its way to spare one person: US President Donald Trump.

In a statement issued just hours after the two-day talks finished on Saturday, North Korea accused the US side of a “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization,” then added, “We still cherish our good faith in President Trump.”

On one level, the sheen of last month’s Singapore summit between Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with broad smiles and handshakes, has yet to wear off. But on another, North Korea may be betting that Trump, the real estate developer-turned-president, will be more willing than his negotiators to ease off his administration’s hard-line positions to make a deal.

It fell to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to get the talks going last week. The mood appeared cordial, even jovial, during his two days in Pyongyang. He and the head of the North Korean negotiating team, Kim Yong Chol, cracked jokes during a working dinner, State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. On the airport tarmac Saturday before he left, Pompeo sounded positive, saying “we made progress on almost all of the central issues.”

So it came as some surprise when North Korea’s state news agency fired out a late-night missive blasting the talks, warning that “we may be shaken in our unshakeable will for denuclearization, rather than consolidating trust.”

The statement was widely seen as a negotiating tactic to put the US on the back foot as talks get underway. It also underscores crucial gaps in how the US and North Korea define denuclearization and see the path forward. Unless they can close those gaps, the whole effort may be doomed.

The 1,200-word statement, attributed to an unnamed Foreign Ministry spokesman, outlined North Korean thinking at length.

It said North Korea put forth several constructive proposals, including a declaration formally ending the 1950-53 Korean War, which it called “the first process of defusing tension.” The statement called for a series of simultaneous actions from both sides, including exchanges to improve relations, the dismantling of a North Korean missile-engine testing ground and talks to return the remains of American soldiers killed in the Korean War.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, right, and Kim Yong Chol, left, a North Korean senior ruling party official and former intelligence chief, return to discussions after a break at Park Hwa Guest House in Pyongyang, North Korea, July 7, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

Pompeo acknowledged at a news conference in Tokyo on Sunday that a peace treaty, security assurances for North Korea and denuclearization should be pursued in parallel, but it’s the last item that has been the clear focus of US efforts and its overriding goal: The elimination of North Korea’s nuclear weapons in a way that can be verified by outside experts.

North Korea hasn’t said publicly what security assurances it would need to get rid of its nuclear weapons, but in the past they have included the withdrawal of the 28,500 US troops stationed in South Korea and an end to US-South Korean military drills.

Trump suspended some upcoming joint drills in a goodwill gesture after his summit with Kim, causing some consternation among experts about the impact on both countries’ military readiness. North Korea, in its post-Pompeo talks statement, played down the importance of the move, describing it as a “highly reversible step which can be resumed anytime at any moment as all of its military force remains intact in its previously held positions.”

Suspending the drills cannot be compared, the statement said, with North Korea’s irreversible destruction of an underground nuclear testing site — though some US analysts have questioned the importance of that move, which was more symbolic than anything else given the relative ease with which new tunnels could be dug and the progress North Korea has already made in developing explosive nuclear devices.

Perception gaps? Negotiating points? The larger question is whether North Korea really intends to surrender its nuclear weapons entirely. Some analysts think North Korea is trying to drag out talks in hopes that the US will come around to accepting it as a nuclear weapons state, perhaps in a limited form that couldn’t threaten the US mainland directly.

That’s where Trump comes in. Pompeo said in Tokyo that the US and its allies remain committed to the goal of a fully verified, final denuclearization of North Korea. But for political considerations, including the fight for control of Congress in November elections, would Trump make a deal? If not, his high-stakes North Korea gambit could join a long list of failed nuclear deals with Pyongyang.


N. Korea talks sidelining human rights: UN rapporteur

July 9, 2018

The North Korean talks process with the US and the South is sidelining the human rights of Pyongyang’s oppressed citizens, the UN’s top official on the issue said Monday.

In a whirlwind of diplomacy, the leader of the isolated, nuclear-armed North Kim Jong Un held an unprecedented summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore last month, after two earlier meetings with the South’s Moon Jae-in.

It is a marked contrast to the mutual threats and mounting fears of last year, instead raising hopes of reaching a deal over North Korea’s arsenal, which include nuclear bombs and missiles capable of reaching the US mainland.

But Pyongyang remains accused by many — including the UN — of a litany of rights abuses against its population.

© AFP | UN rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana says Seoul and Washingon are “losing sight” of the important issue of human rights in North Korea

Neither the joint statement issued by Trump and Kim in Singapore, nor the earlier Panmunjom Declaration signed by Kim and Moon, mentioned the issue of human rights.

“It seems that those who are negotiating are losing sight of this important thing, which is would this process benefit at the end the people living in North Korea,” said Tomas Ojea Quintana, the United Nations’ Special Rapporteur on human rights in the North.

Instead Washington and Seoul were prioritising their own concerns, he said.

“In principle the interests that the president of the United States has shown is that they want to denuclearise North Korea so their territory is not in danger, and that of course is something that has to do with their own interests,” Ojea Quintana told AFP in Seoul.

“I’m still trying to understand to what extent human rights was raised” by Trump in Singapore, the Argentinian lawyer added.

“It seems that it was not comprehensively addressed.”

In the Singapore statement, Kim signed up to a vague commitment to work towards “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”, but Pyongyang has long seen that as a lengthy process of undefined multilateral disarmament, rather than a unilateral dismantling of its own weapons.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Pyongyang at the weekend to try to flesh out the process, only for the North to warn that it was being jeopardised by overbearing “gangster-like” US demands.

Pompeo shrugged off the accusations, insisting the talks were being conducted in “good faith” and making progress, and adding sanctions would only be lifted with “final” denuclearisation.


North Korea Reminds Trump Its Nuclear Weapons Won’t Come Cheap

July 9, 2018

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo went to Pyongyang to get Kim Jong Un to give up his nuclear weapons. He left with a harsh reminder that the North Korean leader expects something in return.

While President Donald Trump’s point man for nuclear talks summed up his 27 hours in the North Korean capital as “productive,” the regime called the visit “regretful.” No sooner had Pompeo left when Kim’s media published a statement saying the U.S.’s “unilateral and gangster-like demand for denuclearization” risked upending ties less than a month after Trump and Kim shook hands in Singapore.

The next line of the more than 1,200-word statement may have captured the central complaint: “The U.S. side never mentioned the issue of establishing a peace regime on the Korean Peninsula, which is essential for defusing tension and preventing a war,” an unidentified foreign ministry spokesman said.

Mike Pompeo and Kim Yong Chol in Pyongyang on July 7.

Photographer: Andrew Harnik/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

The statement shows that Kim is willing to test Trump’s patience and not bargain away his arsenal without sufficient security guarantees. The regime’s belief that the weapons are needed to deter a U.S. attack dates back nearly 70 years to the still-unresolved Korean War, and will take more than a handshake to dispel.

‘Better Relationship’

“The president and high-ranking officials have been talking about this very quick timeline and are focused on the nuclear issue only, and not on the broader situation,” said Eric Gomez, a foreign policy analyst at the Cato Institute in Washington. “Realistically, the only way you get to a denuclearized North Korea is if it has a better relationship with the United States.”

That’s why the vague 1-1/2 page agreement Kim signed with Trump on June 12 called for establishing a new relationship and a “lasting and stable peace regime.” The pledge to “work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula” was listed third.

Practically, assuaging Kim’s security fears could require risky choices for the U.S. and its North Asian allies, such as rolling back America’s nuclear umbrella or pulling back its troops in South Korea. The desire for a broader security realignment explains why Kim agreed to “denuclearization” and not disarmament.

Trump has already faced criticism for being too quick to make security concessions to Kim, including his unilateral suspension of military exercises with South Korea. The North Korean statement indicated such gestures hadn’t gone far enough, saying the U.S. moves were “highly reversible” and left its military force intact “without scraping even a rifle.”

‘Good Faith’

The statement included a personal appeal to the U.S. president: “We still cherish our good faith in President Trump,” it said.

“Their statement is typical North Korean negotiating style,” Duyeon Kim, a visiting fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul, said in an email. “The administration should press on with talks and expect more stumbling blocks along the way, but it must be careful that nuclear talks aren’t held hostage to peace talks.”

South Korea’s so-called peace stocks — a group of companies that stand to benefit from increased economic ties with North Korea — slumped on Monday. Hyundai Elevator Co., the largest shareholder of the operator of Mount Geumgan resort in North Korea, tumbled 12 percent as of 1:36 p.m. in Seoul, while Namhae Chemical Corp., Hyundai Rotem Co., and Hyundai Engineering & Construction Co., fell, as well.

Pompeo was under increased pressure to show progress after reports that Kim expanded his nuclear weapons production in the run up the Singapore summit. The discoveries have further undercut Trump’s assertion that North Korea was “no longer a nuclear threat.” The regime is estimated to have as many as 60 nuclear bombs, plus missiles that can reach the U.S.

Working Group

In Tokyo on Sunday, Pompeo rejected the suggestion the two sides were far apart, describing North Korean officials as more receptive to U.S. demands behind closed doors. “When we spoke to them about the scope of denuclearization, they did not push back,” he said.

It remains to be seen what the dispute means for a diplomatic effort that Trump has credited with helping to advert a nuclear war. The countries did agree this weekend to set up a working group to iron out further disagreements and to meet Thursday to discuss recovering the remains of U.S. military personnel killed during the Korean War.

Mike Pompeo with Japan’s and South Korea’s foreign ministers, Taro Kono and Kang Kyung-wha on July 8.

Photographer: David Mareuil/Pool via Bloomberg

Still, Pompeo also said Sunday he wanted to maintain a “maximum pressure” campaign against North Korea — a term Trump has said he was avoiding in order to foster diplomacy. The U.S. will have a harder time reapplying pressure after Kim used his detente with Trump to improve ties with key neighbors such as China and South Korea.

“The North Koreans have certainly made their stance clear — denuclearization is part of a much bigger overall package that includes peace and its security concerns,” said Zhang Baohui, director of the Centre for Asian Pacific Studies at Lingnan University in Hong Kong. “China understands this. The U.S. is looking increasingly isolated.”

— With assistance by Nick Wadhams, and Heejin Kim

North Korea: US, allies back sanctions until ‘complete denuclearization’

July 8, 2018

Top diplomats of Japan, South Korea and the US have agreed to strengthen ties and force Pyongyang to end its nuclear program. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that North Korea sanctions will not be lifted yet.

A placard on the streets of Wonsan, North Korea

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his South Korean counterpart Kang Kyung-wha on Sunday urged North Korea to take concrete steps toward complete denuclearization. The allied countries agreed to keep UN-backed economic sanctions on Pyongyang until it completely dismantles its nuclear program.

“We were able to reaffirm our unwavering commitment to the continued strengthening of our trilateral cooperation towards the common goal of North Korea’s complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of all nuclear weapons and missiles,” Kono told a joint news conference in Tokyo.

Read more: Is North Korea defying the US in expanding weapons production?

The talks come a day after Pompeo’s Pyongyang visit, which he dubbed successful. But on Saturday, North Korean officials rejected US demands for denuclearization, calling them “unilateral.”

North Korea also slammed Washington’s “gangster-like” attitude.

“The US is fatally mistaken if it went to the extent of regarding that the DPRK (North Korea’s official name) would be compelled to accept, out of its patience, demands reflecting its gangster-like mindset,” according to a statement relayed by the state-run KCNA news agency.

Mike Pompeo, Taro Kono and Kang Kyung-whaMike Pompeo, Taro Kono and Kang Kyung-wha said they remain committed to the sanctions regime

A diplomatic failure?

A landmark meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on June 12 in Singapore had raised hopes for peace on the Korean peninsula and improved US-North Korea ties.

But there hasn’t been much progress on the commitments made during the Singapore summit.

On Saturday, Pompeo said he received new denuclearization commitments from the Kim regime during his two-day stay in North Korea.

But North Korea’s official response after Pompeo’s departure from Pyongyang was in contrast to the secretary of state’s optimistic statement.

“I know actually what precisely took place. When we spoke to them about the scope of denuclearization, they (North Koreans) did not push back,” Pompeo told media in Tokyo on Sunday.

Despite diplomatic efforts, the Trump administration would continue enforcing sanctions until North Korea carried out “fully verified final denuclearization,” said Pompeo.

“There will be a verification connected to the complete denuclearization. It’s what President Trump and Chairman Kim both agreed to,” he added.

Read more: Under pressure from US, Japan’s Shinzo Abe ‘cancels Iran trip’


A North Korean woman balances a pail on her headInternational sanctions against North Korea have crippled its economy

shs/ls (dpa, Reuters, AFP)

Mike Pompeo under pressure to secure nuclear progress in North Korea visit

July 5, 2018

Former White House advisor Sebastian Gorka says we should be seeing North Korea’s progress on denuclearization “Now.”

Secretary of state faces pressure to establish timeline for denuclearisation as well as duty to reassure regional allies

Weeks after Donald Trump declared the world a safer place following his historic summit with Kim Jong-un, Mike Pompeo is due to arrive in Pyongyang on Friday amid growing doubts over the regime’s willingness to abandon its nuclear weapons.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens while appearing at a Senate subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington. Pompeo is due to travel to North Korea today. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

The secretary of state is expected to meet Kim in person in Pyongyang, according to the White House, though details of the agenda have not yet been released. Pompeo, on his third visit to the North Korean capital, is expected to press Kim on a recent report suggesting that far from beginning the process of denuclearisation, North Korea was making “rapid upgrades” to its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

Unnamed US intelligence officials also concluded that North Korea does not intend to completely give up its nuclear stockpile.

Pompeo will also use his visit to consult and reassure Washington’s allies in the region, with meetings planned with Japanese and South Korean officials in Tokyo on Sunday. Japan has voiced support for the leaders’ Singapore declaration, but reacted cautiously to Trump’s decision to cancel a joint US-South Korea military exercise scheduled for August.

Pompeo must establish how far North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes have advanced before US officials can even attempt to draw up a potential timeline for America’s central demand – their complete, irreversible and verifiable dismantlement [CVID].

At present, the US has no reliable information on where all of North Korea’s production and testing facilities are located or the size of its ballistic inventory.

In a tweet this week, Trump said Washington and Pyongyang had been having “many good conversations” with North Korea over denuclearisation. “In the meantime, no Rocket Launches or Nuclear Testing in 8 months, he said. “All of Asia is thrilled. Only the Opposition Party, which includes the Fake News, is complaining. If not for me, we would now be at War with North Korea!”

Sceptics have pointed out that Kim no longer believes such tests are necessary now that the North has successful developed an intercontinental ballistic missile, and that dismantling North Korea’s missile and nuclear infrastructure represents a much tougher diplomatic challenge that could take years and cost billions of dollars, if it happens at all.

“Denuclearisation is no simple task,” Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, wrote in a commentary. “There is no precedent for a country that has openly tested nuclear weapons and developed a nuclear arsenal and infrastructure as substantial as the one in North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons.”

Experts have played down Trump’s upbeat appraisal of his 12 June meeting with Kim in Singapore, where the leaders made a loose commitment to work towards the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula and agreed goodwill measures such as the possible return of the remains of US soldiers from the 1950-53 Korean war.

There are signs Pompeo might abandon all-or-nothing demands for CVID and replace them with incremental steps that South Korea has reportedly suggested would be more likely to secure Kim’s cooperation.

Washington has also come to accept that securing Chinese and Russian cooperation would be easier if it backed away from CVID in early talks with North Korea.

“The choice was either bend it or break it,” a US official told Reuters. Patrick Cronin of the Center for a New American Security said. “The US may be exploring the degree to which he will dismantle major programs within the coming months, and if dropping some language to do this is required, Washington seems willing to do that at this point.”

John Bolton  Credit: Getty Images

It remains to be seen if Pompeo will present Kim with a timeline for denuclearisation. National security adviser John Bolton’s claim that North Korea could complete that goal in the space of a year was met with widespread scepticism, even by administration officials.

Earlier this week, state department spokeswoman Heather Nauert declined to give a timeframe for North Korea’s denuclearisation, saying “I know some individuals have given timelines; we’re not going to provide a timeline for that. A lot of work is left to be done, certainly. We go into this eyes wide open.”


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See also:

North Korea satellite images show missile plant construction, analysts say

We Should Be Seeing North Korean Progress “Now,” Says Trump Pal Sebastian Gorka

July 4, 2018

Image may contain: 1 person, eyeglasses

Donald Trump ally and former White House staffer Dr. Sebastian Gorka told “Fox and Friends” on Wednesday, July 4, 2018, “We need to see North Korea’s progress on denuclearization now.”

Asked if he trusts Kim Jong Un in North Korea, Gorka said, “I don’t trust any dictator.”

Gorka praised the work of Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who leaves on his third trip to North Korea on July 5. But he was also not shy about saying, North Korea has to show the world they are serious about denuclearization.

“We should start to see their progress on denuclearization now and continuing until the job is over.”


See also:

North Korea satellite images show missile plant construction, analysts say

U.S. Keeping Close Eye on North Korea [Video]

July 4, 2018

Iran’s Persistent Protests

July 4, 2018

More demonstrations as the regime scrambles to beat new sanctions.


Iranian Supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei



Iranians are protesting in the streets again, only a few months after the regime crushed nationwide demonstrations over the country’s sagging economy and widespread corruption. The periodic eruptions are a sign of discontent that may spread as the pressure from renewed U.S. sanctions increases.

Image may contain: 6 people, crowd and outdoor

Protests in Iran. AP file photo

The latest upheavals centered in the southwestern city of Khorramshahr over the weekend, after brown fluid started running out of taps. Hundreds of residents gathered in a public space reserved for Friday prayers and blamed local officials for the lack of potable water, chanting such anti-government slogans as “in the name of religion, they plundered us.” Protests also broke out in nearby Abadan.

The weekend demonstrations are part of a larger pattern of discontent with the ruling theocracy in Tehran. In December and January, demonstrations erupted in more than 100 cities and towns over inflation, joblessness and graft. Women staged hijab protests, ripping off their veils. In March farmers from Isfahan province in central Iran protested long droughts. In May truckers went on a nationwide strike to protest stagnant wages and rising costs.

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An Iranian made ballistic missile is launched from Yemen by Houti rebels into Saudi Arabia — Reuters file photo

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and President Hassan Rouhani promised that the 2015 nuclear deal, which funneled tens of billions in hard currency to Iran, would usher in better economic times. Instead, the regime used the money to finance its Quds Force operations and Shiite militias in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Hezbollah in Lebanon.

President Trump’s May decision to exit the nuclear deal and reimpose financial sanctions is already increasing pressure on the regime. Protestors swarmed Tehran’s Grand Bazaar last month after the local currency, the rial, slumped to 90,000 to the dollar in the black market. The rial has fallen roughly by half since the end of 2017, as traders and banks anticipate a harder time getting dollars. Economist Steve Hanke estimates annual inflation has spiked to 126%.

In August the U.S. Treasury plans to reimpose sanctions on gold and other precious metals, U.S. dollar dealing, trade in Iranian sovereign debt, and autos. In November U.S. sanctions will kick in on ports, shipbuilding, petroleum, energy, insurance, and more. A State Department official suggested last month that the U.S. wants to halt all Iranian oil exports, but on Monday policy planning director Brian Hook said it will consider waivers for countries on a case-by-case basis.

Mr. Rouhani responded Tuesday by threatening to disrupt oil shipments from neighboring countries in the Middle East, but that would court U.S. intervention to keep oil flowing through the Strait of Hormuz. The U.S. doesn’t want an oil-price spike with a barrel already selling for nearly $75. But the risks are far greater for Iran if it doesn’t change its marauding behavior because its political control at home is far from certain.

Pompeo to head to North Korea as doubts mount over denuclearization

July 3, 2018

Intelligence reports suggest Pyongyang may be boosting production of fuel for nuclear weapons

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo listens while appearing at a Senate subcommittee hearing on Wednesday on Capitol Hill in Washington. Pompeo is due to travel to North Korea later this week. (Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press)

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will leave for North Korea on Thursday, seeking agreement on a plan for the country’s denuclearization despite mounting doubts about Pyongyang’s willingness to abandon a weapons program that threatens the United States and its allies.

In announcing Pompeo’s travel plans on Monday, White House spokesperson Sarah Sanders said the United States was “continuing to make progress” in talks with North Korea. She declined to confirm or deny recent media reports of intelligence assessments saying North Korea has been expanding its weapons capabilities.

The State Department said Pompeo would head from Pyongyang to Tokyo on Saturday, where he would discuss North Korean denuclearization with Japanese and South Korean leaders.

It will be Pompeo’s first visit to North Korea since the June 12 summit in Singapore between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un, at which the North Korean leader agreed to “work toward denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

The joint summit statement, however, gave no details on how or when Pyongyang might give up its weapons.

U.S. officials have since been trying to flesh out details to produce an agreement that might live up to Trump’s enthusiastic portrayal of the outcome.

‘Great momentum’

The U.S. goal remained “the final, fully verified denuclearization of [North Korea], as agreed to by Chairman Kim in Singapore,” a State Department spokesperson said.

A U.S. delegation led by U.S. ambassador to the Philippines Sung Kim met with North Korean counterparts at Panmunjom on the border between North and South Korea on Sunday to discuss next steps on the implementation of the summit declaration, the State Department said.

“We had good meetings yesterday and … the secretary of state will be there later this week to continue those discussions,” Sanders told a White House briefing.

Sanders endorsed comments made Sunday by White House national security adviser John Bolton, who said he believed the bulk of North Korea’s weapons programs could be dismantled within a year “if they have the strategic decision already made to do that.”

“There is great momentum right now for a positive change and we are moving together for further negotiations,” Sanders said.

However, some experts disputed Bolton’s optimistic time frame for decommissioning North Korea’s weapons, even if North Korea were willing to agree to such moves, amid multiple reports suggesting otherwise.

U.S. intelligence reports

An NBC News report on Friday quoted officials saying U.S. intelligence agencies believe North Korea has increased production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months and may try to hide these while seeking concessions in talks with the United States.

The Washington Post reported Saturday that U.S. intelligence officials had concluded that North Korea did not intend to fully give up its nuclear arsenal and is considering ways to hide the number of weapons it has.

North Korea leader Kim Jong-un, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands at the conclusion of their meetings at the Capella resort on Sentosa Island in Singapore on June 12. A leaked U.S. intelligence report and an analysis of satellite data suggest the North may be continuing its nuclear and missile activities. (Susan Walsh/Associated Press)

Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California, issued a report on Monday saying recent satellite imagery showed North Korea was completing a major expansion of a key manufacturing plant for solid-fuel missiles.

The images showed North Korea finishing construction on the exterior of the plant around the time Kim was meeting with Trump, the report said.

Last week, 38 North, a North Korea monitoring project affiliated with Washington’s Stimson Center think-tank, said satellite imagery showed the North had been upgrading its Yongbyon nuclear complex.

Seeking a ‘road map’

Bolton refused to comment on intelligence matters but said the United States was going into nuclear negotiations aware of Pyongyang’s failure to live up to its past promises.

Patrick Cronin, senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Centre for a New American Security, said U.S. and South Korea officials had told him Pompeo would be seeking to agree to “a specific denuclearization road map, or at least significant dismantlement steps that could fill in a road map.”

He said that if progress was made, the U.S. was open to expanded future engagement with North Korea, including a possible visit by Kim to the UN General Assembly in New York in September and a second summit with Trump.

North Korea has consistently refused in past rounds of failed negotiations to provide an inventory of its weapons program and U.S. intelligence remains uncertain of how many nuclear warheads North Korea has.

The Defence Intelligence Agency has a high-end estimate of about 50 nuclear warheads. But U.S. intelligence agencies believe Pyongyang is concealing an unknown number, including smaller tactical nuclear weapons, in caves and other underground facilities around the country.


See also:

North Korea satellite images show missile plant construction, analysts say